Lawsuit alleges harassment, mistreatment at detention center
It didn’t take long, Ashly Broussard contends, for the racism, discrimination and harassment to begin.
On her first shift at the Adelanto Detention Facility, also known as the Adelanto ICE Processing Center, the former detention officer alleges her supervisor used obscene language and a racist slur toward blacks held in the facility. As the days passed, Broussard charges, her lieutenant exposed himself to her, sexually harassed her and, when she complained to the warden, nearly ran her down with his speeding car.
In a civil trial scheduled to begin in December in San Bernardino County Superior Court in San Bernardino, Broussard is set to tell jurors that a hostile work environment in the for-profit prison, where co-workers called her a rat, a bitch and a snitch, resulted in panic attacks that eventually caused her to suffer a miscarriage.
Her attorney, Raymond Babaian, called Broussard’s case one of the most horrifying he had seen of a company’s managers targeting and harassing a female employee who complained about treatment in the workplace.
“An atrocity and inhumane”
“An atrocity and inhumane,” said Babaian, of Valiant Law in Ontario. “Under California law, employees are protected from retaliation when they voice their complaints of illegal activity and harassment. Here, not only was Ms. Broussard not protected, she suffered extreme and outrageous retaliation after voicing her complaints.”
Once hoping her job in the institution would lead to a career as a police officer, Broussard is “attempting to recover from this,” Babaian said. Broussard, who worked at the facility for about a year, is in her late 20s and lives in the High Desert.
In her lawsuit filed April 3, 2018, Broussard alleges that the facility’s detainees were kept handcuffed in cells against training procedures. Guards, she said, told her where they could assault the detainees out of camera views.
An attorney for the Geo Group, the Florida-based private firm that owns and operates the for-profit prison facility that can hold more than 1,900 detainees for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, declined comment. In a court document, however, attorney Mario Ortega rejected Broussard’s claims against the company.
“Geo Group denies, generally and specifically, each and every material allegation in the complaint,” Ortega wrote.
Attorneys for Broussard’s supervisor, Lt. Laurel Withers, who is also named along with the Geo Group in Broussard’s lawsuit, also denied her allegations in court documents. Tahir Boykins, Withers’ lawyer listed on court documents, did not respond to requests for an interview.
According to the court documents, Broussard said she began work at the facility at 10400 Rancho Road in September 2016. On her first day after her initial training, she “witnessed events and discrimination that have tormented her ever since.”
That day, Broussard alleged, a black detainee spit on her. When she reported the act to Withers, he cussed at the detainee, and referred to blacks with obscenities and a racist slur.
″(Broussard) was shocked and could only shake her head toward Withers in disbelief of his words and actions,” the lawsuit said. “In response, Withers asked (Broussard) in a confrontational manner if she ‘has a problem’ with his approach.”
Withers, Broussard alleged, told her there were no cameras and he would turn around so she could assault the detainee. Uncomfortable, she refused.
Two hours later, Withers forced the detainee in handcuffs to kneel before other supervisors and demanded that he apologize to Broussard.
“Broussard learned and observed that many of Geo’s supervisors periodically assaulted and/or threatened the detainees,” the lawsuit charges. “In fact, several of those supervisors showed off the fact, directly to Broussard, that they knew the specific locations of the facility that had no cameras, thereby advising Broussard of the areas that she could assault detainees without fear of being caught on camera.”
In the lawsuit, Broussard made several other allegations against Withers and the facility:
– About a month after her employment began, Withers approached Broussard near a front kiosk, looked around, entered a nearby restroom and left the door open. He pulled down his pants, exposed himself and to expose himself and urinated in front of her.
– Withers muttered a sexual comment toward Broussard in a break room and “unabashedly ogled” her breasts. Broussard fixed her shirt to cover herself, left the room and later wore jackets at work.
– Withers called Broussard into his office and told her he “wants her full time.” Withers accentuated the word “wants” and spread his legs.
The lawsuit alleges Broussard complained about the hostile work environment to her supervisors, the human resources department, and the prison’s assistant warden and warden. The assistant warden allegedly told her she, too, had caught Withers looking at her own breasts, but dismissed it, saying he “can’t focus.”
In January 2017, Withers allegedly sped toward Broussard in his car in the employee parking lot. Broussard leaped behind other cars to hide. Broussard reported the incident to Geo officials, who did nothing, the lawsuit said.
Broussard, who was pregnant at the time, also alleges she was denied rest breaks and was forced to urinate inside a janitor’s closet.
By March 2017, she suffered severe pain, cramping and bleeding at work. Her request to leave early was denied and she was forced to work another six hours while bleeding. She went to a hospital the next day and learned she had miscarried. Broussard, who went on disability leave, “believes that she suffered the miscarriage as a direct result of the workplace environment,” the lawsuit said.
Broussard returned to work, but was subjected to taunts from Withers’ colleagues, who called her a “rat” and a “bitch,” and made statements like “Snitches get stitches,” and “when will females ever learn to keep (their expletive) mouths shut.” The lawsuit alleges Broussard filed reports about the comments, but nothing was done.
Broussard was fired on Jan. 18, 2018.
In her lawsuit, Broussard alleges assault and sexual assault; sexual harassment; failure to prevent harassment; discrimination, a hostile work environment, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation; infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination; and violations of labor codes, including failure to provide rest periods, meal periods, and overtime wages.
She alleges she suffered financially and physically, including fatigue, depression, pain and suffering, anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation.
The case originally was scheduled to go to trial on Monday, but was postponed Thursday to Dec. 9, Babaian said.
The Adelanto facility’s status as a for-profit prison could soon be over. In March, city officials told Geo Group and ICE that it was ending its contract with them. The decision followed reports of poor medical care, safety violations, a suicide and other attempted suicides at the facility.
In February, the California State Auditor issued a report saying Adelanto officials had failed to properly oversee the running of the facility.
In October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that bans private prisons and immigrant detention facilities in California in 2020.
Source: Victor Valley Daily Press
Raymond Babaian is the founding partner of Valiant Law. During Raymond’s practice, which spans over a decade, he has gained extensive experience in all facets of complex litigation. His expertise includes litigation of employment, general liability, class action, construction, products, and general business litigation matters – from start through trial, and appeal.
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